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a lot of g says, t says

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That time we went to Hawaii

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t says:  As now g and I are Californians, it is only right that we vacation where Californians vacation: Hawaii.  From my understanding, it seems like Hawaii is to San Franciscans as Florida is to New Jerseyans.  Never having been to Hawaii, g and I were pumped.  As I write this, it’s been a little while, so the details will be lacking (as usual), but I hope these pictures will remind g and me of just how much fun we had!

Indeed, the first place one is told to visit in Hawaii is Helena’s.  Home of “traditional Hawaiian” cuisine, g and I didn’t quite know what to expect.  I have to say that there was a bit of trepidation when we pulled up to the parking lot – it doesn’t look like much from the outside, occupying one space in row of shops in a relatively residential neighborhood.  But we knew it was legit because it had a line … quite a long line … meanwhile the restaurant literally in the next space over had absolutely no one in it (I kinda felt bad for them).  Had we been there for longer, I would have considered trying out their food, too … but alas, with only one stomach, we had to go for Helena’s.

The menu required some googling, as g and I didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into.  Between bloggers and the folks sitting next to us (and older couple from Florida who were very friendly; they visit Hawaii at least once a year), we concocted an order to experience “a taste of Hawaii”.

Ok … so we found out that a taste of Hawaii isn’t exactly appeasing to the eyes – lots of browns and whites.  Meats, rice, meats, rice; and of course the purple shade of poi.  Before I go into how things taste, I do wonder: how do Hawaiians maintain their bowels??  There was not a legitimate vegetable on the entire menu!  Ok – back to not being gross: the food was CRAZY-good.  The kalbi (in the upper left position), was quite tasty.  It reminded me of Korean kalbi, but not quite as heavily seasoned.  More important was kalua pig (left position) and the wrapped lau lau (lower right position).  It was interesting to compare the flavors of these two pork dishes, with one coming across with more of a smoky, bbq flavor, while the other had some vegetal flavors courtesy of the leaves in which it was cooked.  Poi is a pass for us – the flavor was quite a bit odd – not sure how to describe it, but I’m not sure how it really works with the rest of the dishes.  As far as what was missing: kimchi.  I yearned for some kimchi.  Something acidic and spicy to really round out the flavor profile.  I had rice and I had meat – really all I needed was some kimchi and it would have been heaven!

There was also an obligatory “have-to-visit-while-in-Oahu” visit to Liliha Bakery.  Now I want to start off saying that I don’t like cream puffs.  I think that just because you have a boring, tasteless pastry, injecting it with more sugar doesn’t make it better … it just makes it sweet.  Well that’s not the case with these puffs.  These “coco puffs” are insane, with a chocolate pudding inside and a ?macademic nut? topping; it’s like the baby of a cream puff and a reese’s.  So amazing.  The donut all the way to the left is their poi donut, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit.  The texture was kind of chewy and resilient, which I thought was great (kind of like a Korean rice cake).  The malasada (in the middle) I think had guava in it, which was less exciting for me, as I find guava to be too potent for my fragile taste buds (the rest of the donut was good!).

And now here was probably our best meal of Hawaii.  After watching a junior surf competition on the north shore, we stopped by Romy’s prawn and shrimp shack.  The layout is similar to a Philly cheesesteak shop – you order at the window and they prep it right there.  While it seems that most people get a fried version, g and I went for the steamed option, as this would allow us time to get to the beach and watch the sunset without having to worry about fried-ness getting soggy.  And it. was. amazing.  The shrimp were huge, perfectly cooked (surprising!), and funt o dip in the sauces (we mixed together the soyu and garlic).  We could not imagine a more Hawaiian experience than sitting on that beach with our shellfish.

Another Hawaiian chain that often makes bloggers’ lists is the Koa pancake house.  I have to say that this one was a little underwhelming.  It came across as more “fusiony” than truly authentic anything.  In the foreground, we had a super-dry/over-cooked chicken, tossed in a “Korean sauce” (that lacked heat) over a mooshy waffle.  g went for a take on eggs benedict (that I think had some kind of kimchi-inspired sauce on it), but that English muffin was quite anemic in appearance and taste.  I mean, the food was fine if you’re in a pinch, but not worth going out of your way for.

This photo is a place-holder for an entire experience: if you go to Honolulu, you have to go to Shangri-la.  The collection of art is amazing.  To post the pictures would do it disservice, because it’s really all about being surrounded by such an eclectic mix of pieces.  Do it.

We did it.  We went to Cinnamon’s.  The famous eatery that features guava (background) and red velvet (foreground) pancakes.  Are you surprised?  Probably not.  However – you should be surprised that it was g’s wishing that led us there – she loves guava.  As I mentioned above: I could do without it.  Cinnamon’s has been open for 32 years.  I daresay that it has not been renovated once.  We sat in the oddest gazebo-looking thing in the middle of the dining room, looking around at tourists feeding their children pounds and pounds of sugar (that’s right!  even I thought that these pancakes were a little over-the-top) – not exactly the ambience I was hoping for … and then these pancakes hit the table … and even though my eyes and brain clearly said “you probably shouldn’t eat all this pancake”, my mouth responded with a “watch me”.  I confess: they were good (the red velvet ones at least).  It’s worth a trip.  Drop in, eat some pancakes, and pop out …    

This is another terrible picture.  I got it.  There was such terrible lighting, I had to get up real close.  While in Hawaii, we had to do at least one Roy’s restaurant, so we ventured Eating House 1849.  This mess of rib was the best item we had.  Smokey and sweet, the meat just fell off the bone.  The rest of the items we had were pretty tasty as well (some Brussels sprouts, some fish, an obligatory molten chocolate dessert), but it was the ribs that I will remember from this meal.  Just so delicious!

What would an adsz post be without some ramen?  Goma Tei’s tan tan ramen is well-known in Hawaii, with a delightful sesame-based broth.  It was thick and creamy, adding a great texture.  However, it was a bit overpowering, as the other ingredients were difficult to shine through the broth’s flavors.  Meanwhile, the pork was tasty, but a bit on the drier side.  I can see why most would like this ramen (it’s quite unctuous and uniquely tasty), but for me, I felt like it needed to have some stronger complementary additions to stand up to such a strong background.  Super-glad I tried it, but if I went back, I’d try some others.

Whereas the Goma Tei ramen had some highlights, I have to say that the AGU ramen (another famous shop in Hawaii) was absolutely forgettable.  Above, you can see a version amped up with some black garlic, some fried garlic, and the [super-gimicky-but-they’re-known-for-it] Parmigiana cheese.  First off, lets’ just settle it now: the cheese added nothing to this dish.  Its texture was wrong, and its flavor wasn’t useful, rather, it only masked every other ingredient in the bowl.  The rest of the dish was kind of bland (cheese notwithstanding), so much so that I dumped the kimchi into the soup just to jazz things up.  Fortunately, the service was quick and nice, so we were able to fill up and move along with our day.   My advice is to skip out on AGU ramen and instead go to the udon shop around the corner, Marukame, which was incredible.  I wish my pictures would have turned out, but the place is totally legit.  You can see them making the noodles from scratch, cooking them up, and composing the soups to your specifications.  Seriously worth waiting in their line and dealing with the curt, borderline-rude service (i.e. don’t expect to stay long!)

One of g’s dreams was to drink an umbrella-laden drink by the beach.  Boom – mission accomplished.  Mai Thai!  But to follow it up: you have to go to Duke’s Waikiki.  It’s essential.  The food isn’t necessarily authentic, but it is quite tasty, including multiple food groups (veggies!), and served an atmosphere that’s just so classically tourist-Hawaii that to miss it would be a crime.  Sit back, relax, eat some raw tuna served over puffed rice, and bask in the glow of the Hawaiian sun!

Oh the shaved ice.  I totally forget the name of this cart/shack, but their shaved ice was the best sweet thing I had on the trip – it was perfect.  Ice cream covered in ice and spritzed with flavors and spiked with fruit and mochi – it was incredible.  Why have I never had it before?  We need this exact treat on the mainland, stat!

And just for k, we went to banan …  That’s not ice cream, so much as whipped frozen banana … served with toppings … and served in a papaya.  That’s right!  In a papaya!  g was loving it … (although I wished it was another one of those shaved ice concoctions, above …)

In all, our first trip to Hawaii was pretty darn incredible.  We went on a fun hike, we tried/nearly-got-blown-out-to-sea during stand-up paddle-boarding.  We beached-it-up right.

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Written by afterdinnersneeze

7 June 2017 at 12:10am

Posted in Happenings

Our First Sonoma Experience

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t says:  g and I happened to be meeting a wonderful winemaker in Napa (lunch at Mustard’s Grill!), when we got back into the car and pondered, “where to next?”.  Having just done a trip to Heitz on our previous visit, we wondered whether other free [good] visits could be had.  One name came to mind: Merry Edwards.  This pinot/chardonnay/SB powerhouse has been making great wine in Sonoma for some time, now … and they, like Heitz, are one of the few top caliber wineries to still give free tastings!  … appointment-free!!

So g and I toughed it through the windy roads of the mountains/hills that lay between Napa and Sonoma.  It was surreal to be seeing such fabulous views from our own tiny little C30 that we owned in Philly for all those years …  And then we finally arrived:

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Trust me, I tried my best to take pictures inside, but I couldn’t find a way to do it and not look like the other four tourists taking selfies.  I was embarassed.  (Or maybe I was just embarassing g?)  So I guess my words will have to paint the picture.  Merry Edwards has a cute little courtyard area, complete with a fountain or two.  You walk into a main reception area where you can “sign up” for a tasting.  There are 2-3 rotating tasting rooms for walk-ins that rotate in terms of which one is “going off” when.  It’s kind of like getting in line for go-kart riding at an amusement park: everyone lines up, then the first 10 or so people all get into the first set of cars and go; and then the next 10 get into the second wave, etc.  Each room opens up as soon as it’s done and then the next group goes.  I found it to be a great way to deal with an onslaught of people all at once – instead of having just a single bar, where employees have to remember which wine they’re pouring for whom, they basically invite a group of people into a closed off room with a separate bar and do a single [standing] tasting with a whole group at once (~15-min).  This way everyone gets to hear everything about the vineyard history and a tidbit about each wine, and we’re all on the same page.  Pretty cool setup!  It’s like having two-to-three revolving bars!  And by “group”, I have to admit that it can be quite small – we had only one other couple in our group, but they could have easily have accommodated more if needed.  They also offer a [free!] seated tasting that included some chardonnay, but that required an appointment; ours was four pinots and a SB.  The pinots were a great study in California pinot noir, each one with different kinds of fruit and savory flavors.  I will warn you, however, that the pinots tend to be quite spendy (~$50-$60/bottle), and I wasn’t quite moved enough by any of them to open my wallet (in my book a $50 wine better at least take my breath away).  The SB, however, was quite remarkable, reminding us of a baby Illumination … with a pricepoint to match (~$32).  And unlike most wines found at wineries, it’s actually harder to find this wine on the retail market for cheaper than at the tasting room, so I could buy with a clear conscience.  While not as petrol-driven, smack-you-in-the-face as Heitz’s SB (this one had a dollop of vanilla oak and a smidge more stone fruit like peach instead of the petrol in Heitz’s), it was a very nice showing, working well with the Dungeness crab g and I just cooked up at home …  Ahhhh – California life is just too hard – wine and crabs in November?  C’est la vie!

We did walk around Sebastapol’s The Barlow as well, an area with some tasting rooms (including Kosta Browne and Wind Gap!), restaurants, and other tchotchke-vendors.  It was quite cute.  This was our first trip to Sonoma, and it’s laid the groundwork for future visits.  Just try and keep us away!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

14 December 2016 at 11:40am

Posted in Happenings

grocery store chardonnay showdown

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t says:  It’s no secret that g and I dislike chardonnay in general.  Sure, there are some examples of chardonnay out there we do like, like Matthiasson’s, or a few Chablis (not universal).  We used to think we were crazy, because everybody loves chardonnay; now we know we’re crazy, but that doesn’t solve the whole chardonnay discordance …  This presents a problem for going to “pick up a quick bottle of wine”.  In general, this means that we’re going to a party, and in general, people expect and like chardonnay.  Liquor and grocery stores know this, with an expansive collection of bottles, but how do we know which one to pick?  Fortunately, RJ to the rescue:

http://www.rjonwine.com/california-wine/grocery-store-chardonnay-project/

Written by afterdinnersneeze

3 March 2016 at 11:46am

Posted in Happenings

Storming Bernal Heights Hill

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t says:  What do San Franciscans do on the weekend?  It seems that they like to go “hiking”.  Now, because g and I are new to the area, we needed a “warm-up” hike – you know, something in the city, something easy to climb, something easy to get an Uber from should we fail … Fortunately, we had experienced hikers k and cm show us how it’s done …

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Step 1 is to have a hearty breakfast.  While maybe not as unctuous as a patented a-breakfast-sandwich (bagel, pork x2, runny egg, blue cheese), this one, crafted by cm embodies the one undeniable fact: we’re in California now!  That means a thin cream cheese layer, pickled red onions, cut tomatoes, and some smoked fish with a side of an egg scramble.  With our bellies pleasantly full, we were ready to conquer Bernal Heights Hill …

 

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On the way to the hill (or maybe it was on the way down from the hill) we stopped by some cute stores, which in typical cute-store fashion, were selling over-priced Korean crap.  We’ll wait until we hit a real Korean grocery for our gochujang, thank you very much.

 

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We did see a sign outside one deli advertising something to the extent of “PB&J made by a robot!”.  We went inside to check it out and we found that this contraption, for $2, would assemble a PB&J sandwich, right before your very eyes!  It reminded me of something we might see in Japan or something (not that I have ever been to Japan).  We did like how there was a nutella option, as well as four different kinds of jam.  I can’t imagine the sandwich was THAT delicious, but it was pretty fun to watch!

 

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We did it!  Bernal Heights Hill!  It was actually pretty hard to capture just how impressive of a hill it was, so we apologize to the Hill that this doesn’t look like much. 

Now that our first hill has been conquered we’re looking forward to developing our hill-climbing muscles so we can take on the bigger, badder sites throughout Cali.  Who knows where we’ll wind up next?

Written by afterdinnersneeze

18 January 2016 at 12:38am

Posted in Happenings

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long-distance blind-tasting!

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t says:  Not satisfied with letting distance come between our fun, a, v, g, and I got together on FaceTime for a “long distance blind wine tasting”*.  While not officially a “restaurant visit in SF”, we had so much fun I just had to write about it!  g whipped up her pasta-a-la-g, which was delicious as usual.  Meanwhile, a and I uncorked the wine-of-the-night and got to blind-tasting …

a sensed some “wet laundry” on the nose – I can’t say I could confirm that.  It did smell a little “wet” but more like forest floor moss than wet laundry (which in my mind smells kind of gross).  Nitpicky scents aside, the major nose element for me was more like a raspberry fruit roll-up.  On the palate, it was plush and smooth, with flavors of red and black berries, maybe even a little “plummy”.  But then on the moderate length finish, there was a nice spicy quality.  It tried to straddle between being a “t-wine” (plush and round) and a “v-wine” (spicy, leather, manly).  However, it wasn’t quite an “a-wine” – he’d prefer a little more tannin, a little more kick in the tongue.  a guessed “New World, Kitchen Sink Blend, America”.  I agreed with the new world style, but felt that the spicy finish just wasn’t right for an American Kitchen Sink blend (i.e. usually zinfandel, petit verdot, syrah, cab franc – grapes that are “left over” in California).  So I went for “new world Spain”, but for the life of me couldn’t think of any Tempranillo-based wine coming out so smooth on entry.  a adjusted his response to include “new world South America”.  We then did the big reveal:

 

2012 Bodega O. Fournier “Urban Uco” Malbec-Tempranillo Blend

Holy cow!  If you put all our guesses together, we kind of guessed it!  It’s a South American wine (Argentina), a new world blend of malbec (which is known for being fruity and very plush) and tempranillo (known for being a bit more “masculine” flavor profile with leather, tobacco, and spice).  And that’s exactly how it tasted – malbec up front, tempranillo on the finish.  We’re calling our guesses to be pretty spot-on!  What we didn’t appreciate at the time was that this wine was under $10!  Not bad!  If you see this on a shelf, go for it!  I imagine the production is large enough where it shouldn’t vary that much year-to-year, so I doubt vintage will change it THAT much.  Go ahead and compare it to 100% malbec bottle and a 100% tempranillo bottle.  It’s fun!

*”long distance blind wine tasting”:  Weird, right?  Before we came to SF, we made it so that the PHL crew (a + v) and the SFO crew (g + t) had the same six bottles of wine (range: $9-$29), fully wrapped and numbered, in a manner such that bottle #1 in PHL corresponded with bottle #1 in SFO.  However, the buyer (t) and the wrapper (g) were not in communication, and the buyer also has a terrible memory (having purchased a bunch of wines all at once), so the end result is that no one (neither g, t, a, nor v) has any idea of the identities of the wines aside from the numbers 1-6 emblazoned on each bottle.  When the time comes, a number is randomly selected, a corresponding bottle is opened simultaneously in Philly and SF, the wine is blind-tasted (bottles still wrapped), opinions recorded, and then there’s a “big reveal”!  Fun, right!  Someone should totally make a wine club like this!

Written by afterdinnersneeze

9 January 2016 at 3:32pm

Posted in Happenings

a word on wine reviews

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t says:  As a wine-snob-wannabe, I’ve done a lot of wine-studying, wine-browsing, wine-tasting, and wine-philosophizing.  Be that as it may, the challenge of “oh, just go and pick out a wine for dinner” is still not easy.  I like to walk up and down every aisle, peering at labels, reading shelf-talkers, pulling up cellartracker reviews and hemming/hawing over what it “might” taste like.  It’s a complicated wine world out there, with a lot of “opinions” floating around.  Who do you trust?  Here’s a good post on the topic, written by who I think is one of the most trustworthy critics out there, Jancis Robinson:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/9de45762-5230-11e5-b029-b9d50a74fd14.html

Written by afterdinnersneeze

7 September 2015 at 7:33pm

Posted in Happenings

McMuffin or Biscuit?

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t says: So it turns out MacDonald’s might be serving breakfast throughout the day.

http://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/its-official-mcdonalds-confirms-all-day-night-breakfast-n419826?cid=sm_fb

That rocks, because I’d always preferred their breakfast options to the rest.  I have fond memories of sitting in the car after swim practice, with the scent of chlorine in the air, grasping those bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuits with my pruned fingers, trying to prevent the inevitable self-destruct sequence that the biscuits go through the second you take your first bite. It was during the “2-for-$2” campaign (that’s right!  $2!!  That’s like back when gas was < $1/gallon!), and life was good.  I have ended the lives of many-a-biscuit.  Actually, I’ve eaten so much MacDonald’s (breakfast and not) during my childhood that not a day goes by where I don’t thank my genetics for seemingly preventing any obvious untoward health effects.  While it’s highly unlikely that I’d eat at MacDonald’s with any real frequency today (seriously – I probably had it in an airport once a year ago), I do like knowing that a greasy, stomach-filling sandwich can be had at any time of day.

But if you read the headline, it seems that there will be a split – some places offering biscuits, and some McMuffins.  This is a classic g versus t debate.  g sides with the McMuffin – feeling that the biscuits are too greasy, and the muffin more resembles a food that she would actually enjoy eating on the day-to-day.  My side: that’s the point!  It’s hedonistic, it’s daring (I mean, it’s obviously so bad for you that you should get a blue ribbon just for surviving!).  It’s a special occasion food!  Like eating a slab of pork belly or foie (that’s right: MacDonald’s biscuit = crumbly foie).  Live a little! (just not too much).

So I wonder what we’ll see at our local Mickey-D’s.  We’ll check it out once … for the sake of the blog …

Written by afterdinnersneeze

1 September 2015 at 9:23pm

Posted in Happenings